Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Up on the Ridge, Down in the Gorge

Oh my, I've been gone from my blog for an entire week!  With children and grandchildren visiting for several days, preparation and entertainment activities kept me out of the woods and away from my computer for far too long.  And the rest of this week will find me off to the wilds of Massachusetts, far from internet access.  Sometimes I think perhaps it's time to let this blog rest, but then I remember all the friends I have made because of it, and that keeps me from giving it up.

 Ruth Schottman and Ed Miller examine plants of False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) that thrive near the ornate crematorium at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy and very few other places this far east of their original native territory in midwestern U.S.

I am often aware of how diminished my life would be, if not for such friends as Ed Miller and Ruth Schottman and other members of the Thursday Naturalists, who have taken me under their collective wings and introduced me to natural areas I never would have found on my own.  That was certainly the case last Thursday, when the group met to walk in Troy's Oakwood Cemetery, high up on a ridge overlooking the Hudson Valley.

 With the Hudson River in the distance, the town of Lansingburgh lies below a high ridge where the Oakwood Cemetery covers many beautiful acres.

Like all cemeteries, Oakwood Cemetery contains many acres of carefully manicured lawns and elaborate monuments, but what brought us naturalists here on a steamy day last week was the marvelous collection of native flora that thrives in the neglected areas where the mowers can't reach.  Our explorations began on a rocky escarpment where sun-loving plants like this patch of Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) was blooming abundantly between thickets of Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) and Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Quercus prinoides).

Adding their ruby-red accent to this scene were dangling clusters of ripe Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana).  Although their luscious color makes them appear quite tempting, their taste is as bitter as their common name suggests.

Another beautiful but inedible fruit that grows abundantly on this escarpment was Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), whose fruits were the prettiest shade of aqua dotted with white.

One of the great pleasures of exploring with serious botanists is that one of them almost always finds something unusual.  We could count on Ruth Schottman to find this anomalous Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) floret with both male and female parts fully developed.  Note the three pistils clustered in the center, with five stamens circled around.  In most circumstances, a Staghorn Sumac would bear flowers that were EITHER staminate OR pistillate, with all flowers on the same shrub being one sex or the other.  Most folks wouldn't give any sumac a second glance, let alone such a close examination of its "naughty bits."

Here's another "find" that Ruth had to show us, although this furry growth on the back rib of a leaf of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus seratina) is the opposite of anomalous, but is instead diagnostic for this particular species of cherry.  But who but someone like Ruth or other members of our naturalists group would stop to take note of it?  I often think of how much I would miss, if not for my botanist friends.

After nearly an hour out in the sun as it climbed higher and hotter, the dark cool shade of a wooded gorge felt like heaven to us, our pleasure there enhanced by the sight and sound of a beautiful waterfall tumbling from a substantial height.

The trail through the gorge was lined with sheer cliffs that were ornamented by gracefully curving fronds of Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).   We also found Bulblet Fern (Cystoperis bulbifera) and Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) sprouting from the same rocks, their occurrence indicating that lime was definitely present in these cliffs.

The damp forest floor was studded with many different kinds of fungi, and I was particularly taken by the charm of this colorful Russula bud set among the sprightly green bristles of Haircap moss.

I was also charmed by the vivid color and pretty flowers of this Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), its narrow grass-like basal leaves protruding from a surrounding clump of Haircap moss.

I will have to come back to Oakwood Cemetery another time, to search for Yellow Pimpernel and Bowman's Root,  two flowers that are known to grow here but which we didn't find this time.  I doubt I will ever find them (or the Yellow Stargrass, either) in my home territory of Saratoga County, although if our summers continue to be as hot as this one has been, these plants may start moving north in the future. For now, though, I will have to go south to Troy to find them.  And if not for my friends in the Thursday Naturalists, I would never know where to look for them anywhere.


Anonymous said...

You've done such wonderful work on this blog for so long, I am loath to urge you to continue. But I must let you know what a pleasure it is to read about and behold your adventures. I grew up in New York, and these plants remind me of all the joys of my childhood, though I have wandered far in time and distance since. You satisfy a great longing, and I am grateful for your every post and meditation. And I am sure that I am not alone in feeling so.

With thanks always,

June said...

A little Disney cartoon mushroom among moss. And the moss the kind I used to use for "trees" in the tiny villages I built when I was very very young!

The Furry Gnome said...

Love the fern picture.

Uta said...

I just adore your blog and hope you don't give up on it. Since my husbands heart attack we have not been able to hike as far as we used to, plus he is 80 years old. We just love to take a look at all your adventures.

Barbara said...

I truly treasure your blog, through which I have learned much, have been inspired to learn more, and have found wonderful role models in strong, adventurous women like you and your friend Ruth. I would dearly miss SWAW if it ceased to be.

suep said...

Just as persistently as you urged me to START my own blog, I will urge you to CONTINUE yours ... ! it's a constant source of inspiration (also helps me to remember some of our miraculous/everyday excursions !)

Ellen Rathbone said...

The rusty fuzz on the cherry leaves was one of the key diagnostics we learned in my dendro. class - that and the "burnt cornflake" bark. :) It's one of things I always look for to verify black cherry.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Oh, my dear friends, I can't tell you how much your encouragement means to me! Although I started this blog more than four years ago as a way to preserve for myself a record of my nature adventures, your comments remind me that my blog has come to serve as a source of pleasure and information for many others. It has also come to be a means for me -- and all my readers, too -- to connect with other naturalists, and all of us learning from one another. Thank you, thank you all for your support.